North Korea's long-range rocket has been moved into position ahead of its planned launch next week. The regime has reiterated the rocket is not a disguised ballistic missile, as asserted by the US and its allies.
North Korean space officials on Sunday moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position for a planned launch, repeating claims that it is intended for peaceful scientific research only.
In an unprecedented step the usually secretive North allowed foreign reporters to visit the Tongchang-ri space centre on Sunday in an effort to show its Unha-3 rocket is not a disguised ballistic missile amid growing international condemnation.
"To say this is a missile test is really nonsense," Jang Myong-Jin, head of the space centre told reporters during the tour.
"Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles … No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes."
The North maintains that the launch is intended to boost the nation's economy by observing the Earth and providing detailed surveys of the impoverished nation's forests and natural resources. The regime says it is scheduled to take place between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th birthday of the late President Kim Il Sung on April 15.
Growing international fears
The US, Japan and South Korea have all warned against the launch, however, saying it violates United Nations resolutions aimed at curbing North Korea's missile activity. Even China, North Korea's only major ally, has urged restraint.
In a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China was "concerned and worried" about the potential impact of North Korea's planned rocket launch, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
China hoped all parties would "keep calm and exercise restraint" and resolve differences over the planned launch through dialogue, Yang was quoted as saying.
On Saturday, Japan deployed missile batteries in central Tokyo in response to the planned launch after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda warned that Japan would be prepared to shoot down the rocket if it threatened Japan's territory. South Korea has issued a similar warning.
ccp/pfd (AFP, AP)